Bailey's Oak R.I.P.

Historical Period: Colonial Texas (1821-1835)
Historical Topic: Frontier Settlements, Folklore & Legends
Species: Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
County: Brazoria
Public Access: No longer applicable; tree is dead

This giant live oak watches over the unmarked grave of a very unusual man—James Briton Bailey (1779-1833).

In his last will and testament, Brit Bailey requested that he be ".... intered [sic], with my face fronting the West…" Before his death, Bailey had declared that he had moved westward all his life and that he had never looked up to any man. It is clear that Bailey intended, if he could, to continue this course of action and this philosophy even after his earthly existence.

A veteran of the war of 1812 and a native of North Carolina, Bailey moved his family from Tennessee to the east bank of the Brazos River in March 1818, two years before Austin’s first visit to Texas. The locale in which he settled still bears his name—Bailey’s Prairie.

Bailey received his league and a labor of land (4,587 acres) in a grant from the Spanish government. After Mexico freed herself from Spanish rule, however, Bailey’s land was included in Stephen F. Austin’s colonization grant from the Mexican government. The question of ownership was eventually settled in Bailey’s favor in 1824, when he became one of Austin’s Old Three Hundred. Austin’s respect for Bailey was evidenced by his appointment of the man as a captain in the 3rd Battalion of the Militia.

In the fall of 1832, the Baileys moved to Brazoria and were building their new house when Brit died. As he had requested, Bailey was buried in the grove near the big red house, beside his children who had preceded him in death, and in the manner described in his will. For years after his death, residents of Bailey’s two-storied red house claimed they were visited at night by Bailey’s ghost.

Uncle Bubba, Bailey’s manservant who lived well past the century mark, claimed that the apparitions in the house and the periodic appearances of a fireball that seemed to rise from Bailey’s grave and moved across the prairie at night were his old master, carrying a lantern in search of the jug of whiskey Uncle Bubba had promised to place in his coffin. Uncle Bubba claimed it was Mrs. Bailey who removed the jug.

The legend of Bailey’s light persists, and there are those living in the area who have reportedly seen it on one or more occasions.

All evidence of Bailey’s homesite have long since disappeared with the exception of this giant oak by the flag pond, toward which Bailey faces, flintlock at his side.